This Too Shall Pass — but you’ll want to watch it a few times

Thanks to @DaveWaite for passing this along. All the ingredients for a viral video: unpredictability, humor, authenticity… and senselessness. Wow.


And the winner is… (best car Super Bowl spots)

I missed most of the Super Bowl, and had to watch the spots afterward to get my annual taste-test of advertising trends. There’s Adweek’s great coverage, USA Today’s ad meter, Ad Age’s Bob Garfield rundown, and many other opinions if you want to compare impact and effectiveness. Most agree that Go-Daddy captured the flag in an aggressive Bob Parsons assault on Worst Damn Spot (didn’t Lady Macbeth have something to say about that, like “Out… OUT!”) It’s got me looking for a new hosting provider … daddy’s going away from Go-Daddy.

I mentioned before the event that I really liked the Sonata paint spot … which came in next to last on the (humor-biased) Ad Meter but I still feel was strong in building actual brand knowledge and respect.

I chuckled at their Brett Favre spot, too, but didn’t comment on it before now.

Thanks to for compiling a scientific comparison of the actual benefit of Super Bowl car spots this year. This is worth 10 minutes of your time to compare and get an analysis based on actual brand-specific traffic.

The summary of the effectiveness ratings is as follows:

  1. Hyndai: Sonata, Favre, and spots — 1.51 rating, traffic change +155% after, +24% during
  2. Kia Sorento: 60-second Sockmonkey spot — .93 rating, traffic change +56% after,
  3. Audi A3 TDI: Green Police — .78 rating, traffic change +47%
  4. Honda Accord Crosstour: Animation of inside space — .53 rating, traffic change +14%
  5. Dodge : What men sacrifice — .40 rating, traffic change +24%
  6. VW: Super Bowl Punch — .22 rating, no brand-specific traffic change, but up 13% during the Super Bowl

Here are the spots, ranked in order of effectiveness according to My comments on each ad follow. Mostly, I agree with their analysis, which you can read here.

In my opinion the Hyndai Favre spot suffered from a case of directorial fear — the writers were obviously worried that no one would get it, or would react angrily — so they stayed on Favre too long, explained the joke too much … and pulled the punch. I’m guessing it was client/agency fear of tapping into volatile Favre reactions. This was a case where the celebrity’s brand was bigger than the automaker’s brand … and they didn’t want to sink with a guy whose fortunes are so complex right now.

I would have spent less time on Favre — cutting the line, “When you’re older than most of the players, coaches, and fans, it’s tough to take orders from people.” Huh? Why’s that in there? Just go from “29 years.” to “I should probably retire after this.” Then, introduce the Hyundai warranty, and with the right script connections it could intercut with Brett’s “I don’t know” line to make the joke stronger and the certainty of a Hyundai future clearer by contrast. The focus needs to be on the amazing Hyundai brand promise, not Favre’s vacillation and age.

The Sonata spot is worth repeating. “Because beautiful works of art are meant to last”!

Bottom line, I agree with that Hyundai wins overall in the race to get noticed and investigated on the web, because the spots combined audience appeal with substantive claims that support the brand.

2. Kia Sorento spot

I think the visual storytelling approach in this spot holds attention and builds the brand whether you relate to the Sock Monkey phenom or not. Because it’s so catchy musically, random visually, intercut with strong product shots, and punctuated by the one-button start at the end, it supports the branding proposition: that Kia is going to surprise you if you look into it.

3. Audi A3 TDI “Green Police” spot

This one is entertaining to a progressive, Puget Sound guy like me and the folks who made it. Not sure how it plays in Peoria. Then again, Audi probably doesn’t sell many cars in Peoria. It needs to appeal to Eurofriendly, green-thinking intellectuals on the northern reaches of both coasts. For them, it’s funny to envision getting in trouble with the government for buying incandescent bulbs or setting the hot tub too high. But I also know how Midwesterners think, how Appalachian and Smokey mountaineers think… and I see a spot like this generating more heat than humor there. Methinks it mixes the brand into the brewing category 5 storm over energy/economy.

4. Honda Accord Crosstour – Squirrel animation

Now we’re hitting spots that really represent bad stewardship by an ad agency. What’s the point of spending millions on a surreal animation of the cargo space of a car most folks haven’t heard of yet?

5. Dodge Charger – Man’s last stand

This reminds me of the Burger King campaign for young, unhealthy, stupid, Type 2 diabetes-destined males… which they now admit was equally aimed at old, unhealthy, stupid, Type 2 diabetes-afflicted men and women. When are ad agencies going to learn that just because you have the power to say stupid things, you don’t have to? Is this just a cynical confession that fast, gas-guzzling machines are soon going to be a dinosaur? Why not at least do what Cadillac did and let the woman share in the ego-driven escape from reality?

6. VW PunchDub spot

Carsdirect panned this one, but I think it deserves to be ranked 2 or 3. The result was skewed because there was no specific brand to track on the site.

This VW spot is brilliantly cast and directed… a tremendous variety of people, cultures, ages. Lots of humor and excellent acting by the cast (policeman, old man with grandson, etc.) Watch it 4 times and you’ll keep seeing new things… like how well they caught flashes of each car from shot to shot, establishing continuity from scene to scene. So it’ll hold up well and help bring brand history up to date. I guess I’m a sucker for VW spots in general.

Here’s the Carsdirect summary on Hyundai, which won hands down:

Hyundai Sonata Super Bowl Commercials

  • Hyundai Super Bowl Traffic Change*: +24%
  • Sonata Super Bowl Traffic Change*: +166%
  • Seconds Advertised: Three 30 second ads plus in-game sponsorships
  • Effectiveness Index: 1.51

Hyundai featured three 30 second ads during the super bowl, the most memorable of which was for the Hyundai Sonata and featured Brett Favre in self-parody mode (seems to be his new M.O. these days). In the past, Hyundai’s ads have usually gone for a more serious tone. This year they took a more humorous approach with their Brett Favre super bowl commercial. The ad featured Favre winning the 2020 super bowl MVP and pondering retirement (once again). While at first glance it may seem like the ad didn’t draw enough of a link between Favre and their brand (I didn’t even remember which company that he’d been advertising for), it seems like the collective good-will towards Favre (as well as in-game sponsorships) translated into an effective overall Hyundai Super Bowl ad campaign.

Note: Traffic to the Hyundai Genesis, which Hyundai targeted in the 2008 & 2009 Super Bowl was up 50% despite no ad coverage. The Hyundai Super Bowl 2010 ad seems to have helped it out tremendously.


Adweek reported on a parallel survey of internet metrics by Autometrics Pulse. It reports the same first five as above, leaving out VW which did not feature a single car. Thanks to @JeffSexton for this info.

The banned Super Bowl spot I really like

Until the punch line, you’ll never guess what this ad is selling…. but it’s a great way to make a case for their product! I’m not sure why it was banned in 2006.

VW Volcano taps volcanic resentment among creatives

Here’s a new spot on YouTube… thanks to the Creative Intensive Network on LinkedIn, for sharing it, and Alexander Bickov for posting it on YouTube.

I really love the storytelling that director Marcello Serpa of AlmapBBDO Brazil accomplished in only a minute seventeen seconds… but judging from the comments on LinkedIn, I’m in the minority. Most of the comments were critical of its relevance, amount of brand recognition, etc. “Creative for creative’s sake”, “Epic waste of a client’s money”, and an entertaining rant with no doubt an interesting backstory about sleek conference rooms and busty interns offering beverages in a big agency. Maybe they’re right. But I don’t think so.

This spot has everything an urbanite worried about the future could want: a smoking volcano threatening an idyllic way of life; a creative solution delivered in heroic fashion by young progressives, working together. Getting their hands and cars dirty in the process, and blessing the soccer players, the old, the young, the chickens, and the goats. A beginning, middle, and end all in just over a minute. Classic dramatic storytelling in the service of car advertising!

Here’s the spot.

Here’s what I said on LinkedIn:

I like it a lot. Well directed: good casting (the old man, the boy), amazing job of making a character statement about the people bringing the popcorn in just a few frames (attractive girl getting out of the car, cool-looking but not Abercrombie-esque shovelers.) Excellent editing… watch it 5 times and you can see how nicely the details support the message. Environmental/urban reinvention statement (Smoking volcano repurposed for human health — with cool factor like chickens & sheep) Great special effects that don’t detract from the story. Well-conceived branding elements as the line of identical cars come toward us (if you watch on YouTube at HQ).

Disagree with the linkage to the Beetle. This spot was clearly conceived to support some branding research somewhere that said “small, green, community, versatile, practical … and yet racy, daring, sporty, and fast.”

Come on, folks, lighten up. What do big horses have to do with Budweiser? Is there a meaningful difference between Huggies and Pampers? The whole thing is just another devilishly clever charade purporting to solve the challenges of life with a product that, in reality, is no better than any other vehicle in solving them. It’s art, and it’s artifice, and if we’re in advertising that’s what clients pay us for.

What thinketh thou?

Blast from the Past

Here’s one from the Ztoryteller archives.

This is an excerpt from a sales video I did for Glencoe McGraw-Hill. The product is Glencoe Accounting: Real-World Applications & Connections — a complete instructional system for high school business students. In order to humorously dramatize the “connections” to real-world experience, I wrote a script in which the spokesman disconnects into 2 personalities: a traditional, conservative accountant, and a creative alter ego. This fun, likeable guy becomes the spokesman for the product throughout the 10-minute video, then reconnects to the conservative accountant persona at the end. This excerpt shows the beginning and ending of the piece.

Sales videos are usually really deadly. This one got some life from the power of story — even a fanciful, humorous one. We give the audience a chance to fantasize themselves breaking away from a very dominant but boring curriculum which most of them have been stuck with for many years.

This video was very successful in helping Glencoe attain market share increases at the expense of a classroom product from another publisher. It was shot on green screen in my studio about 10 years ago, and edited by David Wilson. Chris Broyles delivered a terrific performance as the split-personality spokesman. The first segment required one complete, flawless take of the character on the left in order to provide a master shot that the other characters could be cut into.

I had fun writing this project, fun directing it, and fun dusting it off to share it with you here.

Papaw rocks with Fox in Socks

Today I uploaded a video of me reading my favorite children’s book to my grandsons or anyone who likes Dr. Seuss.


Kickback kick-in-the-pants

I’m a joker. But jokes in print are not the same as jokes told in person, eyeball to eyeball. I have learned how to wink in video, but have had mixed results trying to wink in print. (I wish I could bottle some of the lightning of Mark Twain, Garrison Keillor, or Penelope Trunk!)

A few years back I did something I’ve almost never done … submitted a bid to do a state government project. It was a small awards presentation for companies who hired workers through a state job-training program. Wonder of wonders, we won the bid, and they loved the business theatre evening we produced, thanks in large part to the terrific creative photography of Mary Lou Uttermohlen… so the next year we were able to get the contract again without quite as many formalities.

After I got the call awarding us the new project, I wrote a friendly thank-you letter to our client, who acted as a sort of executive producer on the project, and who I had gotten to know quite well. I said something like, “Next time you’re in town, I’ll award you a kickback in the form of lunch at Rigsby’s!”
Next thing I knew I got a very stiff letter from this erstwhile client/friend, canceling the contract and scolding me for my careless and unethical language. A few days later I got a phone call from a reporter at the Toledo Blade, 200 miles to the north… saying he heard I had been fired from a state government contract for offering kickbacks… He wrote one of those “dumbest guy in the world” articles about me. What was I thinking?!!!

Oops... too late to take it back

Oops... too late to take it back

It was a great lesson. Obviously, I thought, the kickback line had been a joke. But some jokes aren’t funny, especially when they’re in print. From time to time I’ve had similar misunderstandings in email… though none that cost me a $10,000 contract (or a $50,000 lawsuit as happened recently after someone’s Twitter post.)

How does it relate to authenticity? I still maintain that whenever I am representing a client’s brand, they are best served by an informality and self-effacing humor that at times will make them vulnerable. It’s often best to verbalize the questions and doubts in their audience’s mind. Authenticity pretty much demands that we swallow the old PR control-mindset and let negative comments be included in their public feedback loops. And evolved companies tend to poke fun at themselves, not their competition.

Whenever message-mogols are allowed to filter every word for negative nuance or exaggeration, the audience immediately senses that this is hype, not reality.

Yes, we all need to redline egregious misstatements like the one I just described — which use nasty words, demean groups of people, or hint at impropriety. And not just in public, but in private correspondence as well  … because we can assume all private words will one day become public.

Still, we also need to find a way for humor to survive, and humor always lives at the edge. When you’re hoping to sell cornflakes, you’ve got to let your messages be a little corny and a little flaky.

How about you? Any stories of foot-in-mouth disease?